The future of the Jacksonville Armada is up in the air right now and what the club might do next is anyone’s guess after the NPSL season wrapped up over a month ago.
The Armada are weighing their options and considering a handful of different routes at the moment. The National Independent Soccer Association, otherwise known as NISA, is one of those options on the table, and it become a lot more attractive on Thursday with the announcement that Detroit City FC, Oakland Roots SC, and Chattanooga FC will all be joining the league, dropping out of the NPSL Members Cup.
NISA, which has teams throughout the country in markets including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, San Diego, and several others, is slated to launch for the first time with its fall season kicking off this month. Plenty of new professional leagues with plenty of promise, big name clubs, and a lot of flash have come and gone in the US before — hello, NASL! — but this one feels different.
On the outside, NISA has always looked like a questionable venture, but with the additions of Detroit City, one of the most well-known and successful lower-division sides in the US soccer landscape, Chattanooga, and Oakland, there’s more reason to believe the league has a better chance at stability and survive for the long-term.
How the league is run — whether it maintains a steady ship and growth similar to USL or is ultimately run into the ground with lofty goals and poor execution like the NASL — still remains to be seen, but it leaves the Armada with an interesting decision to make over the next 6-12 months (should something be decided in that timeframe).
There are several things at play here for Jacksonville, owned by RP Funding founder Robert Palmer. In an interview with the Jacksonville Soccer Journal back in June, club president Nathan Walter the club is focusing on getting a stadium plan solved before it takes any big next steps.
“Until a stadium is in place, we’re not ready to take the next step, whatever that next step may be,” he said. “The stadium is crucial for us to make the next step up — for one, the give the fans what they deserve, and experience like that; two, local companies, sponsorships, our partners deserve stuff like that, they deserve to experience hospitality and enjoy and so on.”
If the ownership group isn’t able to finalize a stadium deal with the city before 2020, the club could see itself playing in the NPSL once again, fielding only a u-23 side for the second year in a row.
Trying to field a full pro team would be an issue due to the stadium situation. Plans to upgrade and expand seating at Patton Park, where the club played this summer, fell apart after pushback by the local community. The Armada drew good crowds at the University of North Florida, but high costs and a lack of controls and profits over key things like concessions and parking made operations difficult from the business side.
The club has played games at Jacksonville University in the past, too, but its unknown if that would be an option for a full schedule of games. The same goes for TIAA Bank Field; however, large and mostly empty football stadiums are not idea from a soccer experience and business perspective either.
The former is an important thing for Walter when it comes to what the plans develop into
“The situation we’re currently in within Jacksonville, there’s no soccer-specific stadium, there’s no stadium that houses great hospitality, no great experiences for the fans, we can’t monetize on anything, so there’s no stable situation for us,” Walter said.
At the end of the day, having another viable option helps the Armada. While the stadium situation ultimately appears to be the key to moving forward, it’s also easy to argue that the Armada can’t risk waiting much longer and losing the market while it decides on how and when to jump back into the professional soccer market. Hardcore and loyal supporters will never waver, but with the potential for another ownership group — potentially from USL — to swoop in and compete for the market space, the Armada must show a plan soon.
For now, we wait.